How New Changes to Your Personal Data Privacy Will Affect SMEs
On January 28 of this year (2021) – a date known internationally as Data Privacy Day – Apple announced a new feature for its iOS operating system, called “App Tracking Transparency”. Once it is formally launched this spring, users of Apple devices will need to ‘opt-in’ to allow data tracking software to be turned on within apps. Up to this point, data tracking has been turned on by default, and in many cases it has been very difficult (or even impossible) to turn off.
Privacy vs convenience
The battle over data has been ongoing since the birth of the modern internet. Companies generally want access to user data for advertising purposes, and the ability to sell, use and otherwise exploit that data is central to the business models of companies like Google and Facebook, whose services are otherwise ‘free’ for ordinary users.
Access to personal data is also a high priority for various intelligence agencies, as a collection of leaks revealed in 2013 and 2014. The subsequent debate over internet users’ right to privacy helped bring about Europe’s GDPR regulations, which in turn have had a major influence on Thailand’s incoming Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), both of which are aimed at protecting the anonymity of ordinary internet users.
We have already written about how the PDPA will directly affect businesses in Thailand in terms of their digital marketing strategy. But the PDPA, which comes into effect on June 1 of this year, mainly targets websites and their cookies. Apple’s new App Tracking Transparency feature will extend this feature to apps of all kinds.
Surviving a different kind of data leak
It’s no secret that Google and Facebook track their users. But companies across the internet also rely on this type of tracking – either directly for their own purposes, or to precisely target their ads at the people they are trying to reach in order to get the most ‘bang’ for their advertising buck. In an ultra-competitive environment like online advertising, this data-powered marketing can be great for businesses, and a lifesaver for startups.
Apple’s announcement is therefore being met with a great deal of ambivalence from companies who rely on tracking data. From the perspective of these businesses, App Tracking Transparency could make online advertising far more difficult. If we imagine that user data is routinely collected into a giant, virtual balloon that advertisers can access to learn more about user behavior – then Apple has just announced that it will stick a pin in that balloon.
Consumers, however, are much more in favor of App Transparency, especially those already in the Apple ecosystem, who are often drawn to Apple products precisely because of their focus on privacy. And if customers happen to really like how companies track them online, they can always opt to turn App Transparency off.
But startups and other companies who rely on getting their products in front of consumers will need to plug the hole quickly in order to stay connected with existing and potential customers. There are a number of ways to do this, but the most effective will likely be by taking advantage of newsletters, opt-in mailing lists and other direct-to-consumer channels that cut out the need for a middle man like Facebook who will want their cut, and allow a more personal business-to-consumer relationship.
Apple’s decision to protect the data of its customers could start a major and long-lasting trend within the industry. For consumers, privacy will likely become a key selling point of the Apple ecosystem. Although most non-Apple phones run on Android, which was developed by Google, customers may demand that their operating systems follow Apple’s lead.
The internet has always moved fast, with business success requiring adaptation at every step. With data-based advertising about to become more difficult to do really well thanks to Apple and the PDPA, SMEs in particular will need to convince potential customers to follow their brands online voluntarily, by offering real value in return.
By making the right moves quickly, SMEs in Thailand may do more than just maintain their existing brand communication efforts. They could also earn a competitive advantage over larger companies that will learn their lesson too late, or are simply too big to adapt quickly.